The closeness of the Trans-Tasman relationship, from the ANZAC tradition to shared heritage, has long been “marked by shared perceptions about most of the issues of mutual concern“While the United States remains an ally and security guard of Australia and New Zealand, China, at present, is their main trading partner and they both enjoy a trade surplus with China. Despite these similarities, Australia and New Zealand have recently recalibrated policy they are against China – but in different directions and with different results.
Since the launch of the trade war between China and the United States in 2018, Washington has become more vocal in researching investments from Huawei and ZTE. After a meeting between the allies sharing the eyes of Five Eyes on the Gold Coast, Australia in 2018, Canberra and Wellington decided to ban Huawei from participating in their 5G network. However, there is a slight difference in the way they trap and justify their prohibitions. Australian Government expressed national security concern on Chinese telecommunications investment in Australia. In contrast, New Zealand frame his choice as a “state-agnostic” decision, “made by bureaucrats, not politicians.” Although they made the same decision about Huawei and ZTE, Wellington’s “country-agnostic” framing has so far enabled its economic relations with China to avoid sanctions.
Recently, Australia took the lead in calling for an independent, international and impartial investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in April 2020. This immediately received a strong reaction from Beijing. The Chinese ambassador in Canberra hinted that Chinese consumers (eg students and tourists) might boycott Australia and its agricultural products. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne reject the threat as “economic coercion.”
Despite having more than 130 countries’ support for the investigation, which was finally adopted by WHO on May 19, the resolution was a compromise as a result of the push back from Beijing. It does not refer to China and only asks WHO to work with the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization to investigate the origin of the outbreak “after the disease was completely contained.” It may take years for a pandemic to be “fully contained,” given the outbreak of the second wave in many countries, such as China, South Korea, and Australia. Also remember that FAO is now led by Chinese citizens. The extent to which an investigation can be carried out is a moot point. China-Australia relations has deteriorated rapidly since the Australian initiative.
On the other side of the Tasman Sea, although New Zealand is one of 130 countries calling for an independent investigation of COVID-19 and also supporting Taiwan to join WHO as an observer, its approach is wiser. According to Washington Post“Arden is waiting until a coalition of dozens of countries is ready to seek an inquiry before supporting one, and says New Zealand is not interested in ‘witch hunts.'”
In the midst of a pandemic in early June 2020, the heads of foreign ministries of the Five Eyes countries held a conference to discuss their joint concerns over Hong Kong’s autonomy, together with the transparency of COVID-19 and the supply chain. Four of them released a joint statement denounced the Chinese government for its decision to enact new national security laws in Hong Kong, and stated that the new law threatened Hong Kong’s status as a “stronghold of freedom.” Instead of joining four other Five Eyes members, New Zealand issued a separate but similar statement, expressing the country’s “deep concern” about the new security law because it “eroded Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it very prosperous …” This separate statement makes the same point as a joint statement. Why did the Ardern government not sign a joint statement but deliver a similar message?
The art of shipping is the key. By voicing his concern for Hong Kong’s freedom, Ardern has shown his allies and the world that New Zealand supports and respects democratic values about freedom and human rights. Simultaneously, from Beijing’s position, this separate statement is considered less confrontational than a collective statement; Wellington can thus “escape” from the wrath of its main trading partners. Australia too act earlier than New Zealand in suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, offering a “safe place” for Hong Kong people, and more significantly issuing travel advisors to its citizens, warning them not to travel to Hong Kong. That the advisor said explicitly that “Under the new national security law for Hong Kong, [Australians] can be deported or face the possibility of transfer to mainland China to be prosecuted under mainland law. “
Along with this development, in June 2020, the Morrison government announced US $ 186 billion (A $ 270 billion) in military spending in the next 10 years, a 40 percent increase from the previous budget for 2016-2026. At a press conference on “re-defense,” Morrison stressed the need for Australia to prepare for the post-COVID-19 world which, in his words, is “poorer, more dangerous and more chaotic.” Although he refrained from mentioning China, the media and strategists, for example Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), have describe a new defense strategy which is aimed at countering the rise of China. Framing “re-defense” now has pushed Sino-Australian relations into a worse situation. According to China Global Times, Chinese authority consider prosecuting ASPI for defamation.
The difference between New Zealand and Australia’s approach to China can be understood as the difference between hedging and balance. Hedging is a risk management or mitigation policy similar to insurance. Among academics, strategic hedging is highly debated and is widely (eg) understood as a mixture of balancing and joining in. While balancing is driven by a desire to protect the country from security threats that are clearly identified and unambiguous, hedging focus on risk management with the aim of reducing potential security risks, reducing the likelihood that threats will materialize, and reducing hazards if potential threats are realized. Hedging defined as sending policy “ambiguous signal to competing forces about possible future alignment decisions reduce security risk. In other words, means a hedge “Avoiding clear integration with large powers, and in turn creates greater uncertainty about which side will be taken by the secondary state in the event of a major power conflict.”
One of the biggest potential joint risks facing both Oceanic countries is economic security or, more precisely, their economic dependence on China. Successful hedging policies must enable them to reduce the risk of economic vulnerability by sending “ambiguous signal to competing forces about … possible future alignment decisions reduce security risk. “For example, Canberra must paint” re-defense “as impure because China when, in fact and more importantly, functions as the response to Trump’s uncertain policy towards US allies and prepare for Washington who is “less reliable and less assertive” in defending Australia’s interests in the region. The Australian Government must carefully frame this issue without showing that it is in harmony with the United States against China.
A small country with a population of only 4.8 million, New Zealand has sent ambiguous signals to China and the United States. As a Western liberal democracy, this country guarantees liberal values and norms, but at the same time distanced itself from framing or is seen as the so-called “sheriff’s representative” of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. In comparison, Australia is more proactive in bringing or taking part in a coalition of “like-minded” countries to balance against China. This Australian approach has already angered China and now Australia bears the brunt of retaliation in the Chinese economy.
Lai-Ha Chan is a Senior Lecturer in the Social and Political Science Program, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney, Australia.
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